Football coaches typically don't get around town all that much, especially just before the season, but Temple coach Geoff Collins said this week that when he is out seeing Owls fans, he often hears the same thing.
This Villanova game is big.
"If I'm at Reading Terminal, if I'm in Chestnut Hill, if I see a Temple fan — that's what they say,'' Collins said. "Villanova is a big game."
Collins gave utmost respect to Villanova's team before Saturday's opener at Lincoln Financial Field. He explained exactly why his group has to worry about this opponent. Villanova plays one level down from FBS, in FCS. That doesn't mean a lot when the Owls needed a late field goal to get by the Wildcats last season.
It's a rivalry, but kind of a weird one, given the different levels. The fan bases, however, generally don't have much regard for each other, which is at the core of any serious rivalry.
It makes sense that Temple fans care about local bragging rights. You can look at Temple's schedule, and sure, Buffalo is a pretty good team and former Owls coach Steve Addazio will host Temple at Boston College, adding to the interest for that one.
Still, nobody can argue that having Tulsa and ECU and Cincinnati come to town is going to move the needle.
That's not to suggest Temple is in the wrong football league. Given their options, the Owls are in the exact right spot, a close sixth in prowess to the Power 5.
No, this isn't the biggest rivalry there can be for Temple. Penn State moves that needle, and broke it when Temple most memorably took the Nittany Lions out at the Linc a few years back.
This week, games involving all three locals were announced, with Penn State doing the honors. Almost a decade down the road, Temple will host Penn State in 2026, then head for State College a year later.
Just as interesting, Villanova will play two games in Happy Valley, in 2021 and '25. (In between, Penn State will host Delaware in '23, and then again in '27.)
All this is great, truly. Especially for Villanova. For Mark Ferrante's Wildcats, the Delaware game is the biggest rivalry game, as it should be. Two proud programs in the same league. The FCS is a good level for the Wildcats, who almost annually prove they can hang in with the next level up. There have been times, including up at Boston College when Addazio first got there, that Villanova might have had the superior talent, but with fewer scholarships, depth becomes an issue in the fourth quarter.
Ferrante told the Inquirer's Marc Narducci that he'd like Villanova to play Temple as often as possible.
"Even though it is always an away game, I think it is good for Philadelphia and the surrounding area,'' Ferrante said this week. "We will have a nice fan base for both sides. We like to play an FBS team every year, and I would play Temple because of the logistics and proximity."
Villanova also gets paid a nice chunk of change for its trouble. Assume the payers never want to pay for a loss, which adds to the importance.
The game might have caught a slightly bigger crowd on Thursday night, but that wasn't an option this season, with the main tenants taking the field. Still, Saturday at noon, Labor Day weekend kicks off with a good one.
You can expect an uptick for both Temple and Villanova from 2017, when Temple rallied late to finish 7-6 and Villanova was swarmed by injuries that turned a promising season into 5-6. Both Ferrante and Collins are in their second seasons, so assume there's an increased comfort level with both programs.
This week, Collins talked of his optimism in all sorts of phases of the game for Temple, while making it clear the other guys had his attention.
"Schematically, offensively and defensively, they give you issues,'' Collins said. "They've got tremendous athletes."
Collins said he starts every week looking at what big plays other teams had put up against his next opponent. The coach said there were about 10 against Villanova's defense on the tape. He told an assistant that, no, he wanted the whole season.
"Nah, Coach, that is the entire season," Collins was told.